The Dinner Party Revolution

The rise of The Supper Club has put dinner parties back on the map. Jessica Jonzen meets Laura Jackson and Alice Levine, the women behind Jackson&Levine, London’s coolest caterers.

There was a time when a dinner party was the only way to entertain. In the 1970s and ‘80s, a soiree at home was the ultimate vehicle for catching up with friends, showing off your superior way with a Black Forest Gateau, and enjoying a few gin and tonics.

But with the dawn of the ‘90s, dinner parties fell out of fashion. People socialised at bars and gigs. Dining rooms were knocked through to create open plan kitchens. Napkin rings gathered dust in drawers.

But the dinner party is back, all thanks to the recent trend for supper clubs (often pop-ups held in people’s homes) – and the undisputed queens of them all are Londonbased Laura Jackson and Alice Levine aka Jackson&Levine.

Laura is a TV presenter whilst Alice hosts her own show on Radio 1. They met in 2013 through a mutual friend, the presenter Gemma Cairney, who was running a charity jumble sale and asked them both to run a stall.

‘We kept finding things we thought the other would like – there were some dungarees and a cat blouse if memory serves me right,’ says Alice. ‘We started chatting about food on our break and decided to meet up and have lunch. We then cooked up the idea of starting a supper club. We didn’t really know what the rules were, but we thought it would be a fun challenge.’

With Laura’s converted warehouse flat in East London providing a perfect venue, the duo opened it up to 16 people, ‘as that was how many chairs we could beg, borrow and steal!’ laughs Laura. They served slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with daupinoise potatoes and lemon posset for dessert.

‘Everyone stayed into the small hours playing records and singing. ‘We had no idea what we were doing but it was a lot of fun! We were exhausted at the end but thought we should do that again,’ says Alice.

Offering a perfect blend of exclusivity, a delicious and eclectic menu, beautifully styled, their bi-monthly (when schedules allow) supper clubs are now instant sell-outs. The duo have written food columns for Company magazine and elle.com, have just published their first book Round to Ours and are launching a range for Habitat in June, inspired by the botanicals they use in their cooking. Here, they share their tips for great summer entertaining and three exclusive recipes from their new book.

How did you both get in to cooking?

Alice – My mum is an amazing home cook, we always have big family meals where she puts on a delicious spread. Later in her career she started doing catering, making really exciting vegetarian food. I think watching her is where I got the cooking bug. Now it’s lovely to cook in the kitchen together.

Laura – I always waitressed at my mum’s dinner parties – I loved the glitz of it. It was as much about having a good time as it was about the food. When it came to studying, I chose Events Management at university and as part of that I worked for the catering company The Admirable Criton. I loved it – many of the dinners were silver service and I was part of huge events, like one incredible meal at the Natural History Museum.

Have you both always enjoyed cooking for other people?

A – We love having a busy, bustling kitchen table, with all our favourite people around it – the more the merrier! After a long week, it’s the perfect way to catch up on everyone’s gossip and unwind. The best dinners start early and end late – everyone staying well into the night is a good sign. Being at the heart of the action as the person making the food has always been a thrill for us both.

The styling of your supper clubs is always absolutely beautiful. What inspires the looks you create?

L – If you are going to the trouble of cooking a lovely meal for friends, it’s worth putting in that extra bit of effort to present it in a beautiful way. We are all about the small details, such as lovely plants or flowers for the table or to hang from the ceiling; large sharing platters and plates from charity shops so you can serve some dishes banquet-style in the middle of the table; and there is a whole section in our book on lighting. It makes such a difference.

What would be your table styling tips for an outdoor dinner party?

  1. Festoon lights are wonderful inside and outside. Draped in trees or above a table they will provide a romantic glow.
  2. If you don’t have a table big enough for a large banquet, use crates on the grass in a line and seat guests on blankets and cushions around it.
  3. Use elements of the garden or surroundings in your menu to tie everything together. We’ve infused our gin with rhubarb from the garden or tied sprigs of herbs in a bundle for place settings.

CRUDITÉS WITH WILD GARLIC DIP

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained (or preferably from a jar)

juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste

1 tsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp tahini

100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

A big handful of wild garlic leaves (about 30g), washed, dried and finely chopped, or 3 confit garlic cloves, finely chopped

fine sea salt

A selection of colourful seasonal vegetables, such as radishes and asparagus or cauliflower florets and purple carrots, to serve

METHOD

  1. Put the chickpeas, lemon juice, vinegar, tahini and oil in a blender and process everything together. Scrape into a bowl and stir in the chopped wild garlic or confit garlic. Season to taste with a little salt.
  2. Drizzle with oil and serve with the vegetables.
  3. Confit garlic
  4. Preheat the oven to 160oC/gas 3. Break apart a whole garlic bulb into separate cloves, leaving the skins on. Place in a small ovenproof dish and add enough olive oil to just cover them. Bake in the oven for 25–35 minutes, depending on the size of the cloves, until the cloves are soft and easily pierced with a skewer or cocktail stick. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Transfer the cooled garlic and the oil to a sterilised, airtight container and store in the fridge, where it will keep for at least a couple of weeks.

DEEP-FRIED COURGETTE FLOWERS WITH RICOTTA, HONEY & MINT

Makes 12

1 large egg

40g plain flour

100ml cold sparking water

12 courgette flowers

About 1 litre sunflower oil, for deep-frying

FOR THE STUFFING

250g ricotta

A small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and black pepper

TO SERVE

A drizzle of floral runny honey

Micro herbs or red amaranth (for a pop of colour)

METHOD

  1. First make the batter. In a bowl, whisk the egg and flour together, then add the sparkling water and whisk lightly to remove lumps – don’t over-whisk so you lose the air bubbles, as you want the batter to be light.
  2. For the stuffing, put the ricotta, mint and lemon zest in a bowl, with salt and pepper to taste, and mix until combined.
  3. Gently open the courgette flowers and pinch out the stamen. Place a large tablespoon of the stuffing into each flower. Pinch and twist the petals lightly to seal the top – you want to make sure the stuffing is sealed in the flower so it doesn’t leak out while cooking.
  4. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-based pan; it needs to come at least halfway up the sides. Place over a high heat until it reaches 180oC – to test whether the oil is ready, drop a bit of the batter in: if it sizzles and bubbles to the top, it’s ready.
  5. Lightly coat the courgette and stuffed flowers in the batter and gently lower into the oil. Do this in batches so they don’t stick together, and be careful when lowering them in as the hot oil will spit. Fry for about 2 minutes until light-golden brown and crispy. Using a slotted or wire spoon, transfer to kitchen paper to drain off the excess oil.
  6. Serve immediately, with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of micro herbs and sea salt.

WHOLE ROASTED MACKEREL WITH SORREL YOGHURT

6 mackerel, gutted (ask your fishmonger to gut the fish for you if you prefer)

6 slices of lemon, cut into 12 half moons

12 bay leaves

Olive oil, to drizzle

Sea salt and black pepper

FOR THE SORREL YOGHURT

1 small garlic clove

A small handful of sorrel leaves, roughly chopped

200g Greek yoghurt

3 tbsp olive oil

A squeeze of lemon juice

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/gas 6.
  2. Season the fish on the inside and on both outer sides, and place in an ovenproof dish. Using a knife, make 2 incisions into the top of each fish, in diagonal parallel lines, then stuff a lemon half moon and a bay leaf into each incision. Drizzle with plenty of oil and roast in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until cooked through; the flesh should be white and opaque.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sorrel yoghurt. Put the garlic, sorrel and a little salt into a pestle and mortar and crush to a green paste. In a bowl, mix the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice and some salt and pepper, then stir in the sorrel and garlic paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning and lemon juice to suit your palate.
  4. Serve the fish on a lovely platter with the yoghurt alongside – tell your guests to check for bones!

NEW POTATOES WITH FENNEL POLLEN

700g salad potatoes, such as Anya, Jersey Royals or small Yukon Gold, scrubbed

2 tbsp good-quality extra virgin olive oil

25g butter

1 tsp sea salt (try smoked sea salt)

1⁄2 tbsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp fennel pollen

METHOD

  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water for 12–15 minutes, or until just tender when prodded with a fork, then drain.
  2. Crush the potatoes slightly with a fork, then stir in the oil, butter, salt and pepper. Scatter over the fennel pollen and stir again.

 

Round to Ours by Jackson & Levine (Quadrille, £20). Photography: Kristin Peters; jacksonandlevine.co.uk

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